My Nadi

myNADI Concept:

myNADI is a series of two-way conversations with communities to understand their engagement with rivers and water and also to build capacities and create a ground up discourse on the larger picture of water governance.

They are designed as a free flowing and interactive consultation at the grassroots to enable people to voice and express their connect with the river and the water body closest to them. These conversations help us to have a live connect with the pulse of ground realities. They are aimed to inform our research and advocacy on water issues by incorporating the concerns, challenges, needs and aspirations of people on the ground. They also act as a platform where the grassroots can be initiated to the larger picture and macro development planning that directly or indirectly impacts them.

Conversation in March 2019:

The Asian Confluence team visited Nongstoin and Nongkhnum in the West Khashi Hills to initiate a conversation under the myNADI  initiative on March 15, 2019.  A brief summary of the learning is captured below

Nongstoin:

Nongstoin is the district headquarters of West Khashi Hills district in Meghalaya. It is also the meeting point for two small rivers, Nondeiñ and Nonbah. The rivers have been a part of the life and livelihoods of both people and other living beings in the locality. However, in the last decade they have changed quite a bit with urbanisation happening in the district headquarters of West Khasi Hills, the way locals engage with the rivers has changed considerably and in turn, has changed their state of health.

Amidst increasing concerns of the pollution and plastic waste, local youth started engaging on changing the scenario around. The Asian Confluence met this young and energetic group of localites who call themselves the Nature Club of Nongstoin. They are a sixty (60) member strong group and growing.

As the Asian Confluence team started the conversation on rivers and water bodies of Nongstoin and the area around it, they shared how they have seen the rivers change over the years. They shared how village elders rued the fact that even a decade ago one could see wild animals drinking from the river, a phenomenon that has completely stopped given the level of pollution and dwindling of the flow in more recent times. They shared their concerns about the health of the river and the initiatives that they have taken as a collective to help improve that. They have already organised plastic cleaning drive along the rivers and successfully cleared up stretches of the river bed and their banks. They have started to engage with people, government officials, village elders and faith based institutions in their locality to help build awareness and ownership towards the rivers. When asked about how people are engaging with the rivers, particularly with regards to their livelihoods, they shared that some are using it for washing (both domestic and commercial), some for everyday water needs and the likes, there is not much of fishing potential in the rivers near Nongstoin though there is some recreational fishing that happens. The most important livelihood around rivers and their resources is sand mining, they shared. With dearth of livelihood opportunities other than government jobs, which are limited, educated people migrate out and a majority of the rural people engage as labourers and collector of sand from the river beds. They also mentioned the ban on sand mining that was announced by the government, but were unsure about why such blanket ban is essential, they said that these are people mining small amounts of sand from the rivers to sell it to aggregators and earn their livelihood. While they are vaguely aware about problems of sand and boulder mining and their impact on river health, they are unsure about what could be a possible way out for livelihood if sand mining was to stop. 

The Asian Confluence team asked whether tourism could be a way out and they agreed that it could be. They however shared that tourists are not very frequent to the area other than the winter months of December and January. They are however hopeful that better promotion could help in boosting tourism. One of the reasons being that Nongkhnum, the second largest river island in Asia, is close by. 

The Asian Confluence team also met a group of women who offer washing services to families in Nongstoin and make around INR 4-5 thousands odd in a month. They were washing by the river banks where the local government has helped create a washing platform for them. When asked as to whether they are aware about the pollution caused to rivers from such washing, they agreed and expressed their concerns. “We understand the concern but where do we go” shared Kong Christina Lynkhoi, one of the women. 

 
Picture 1 & 2: Women who engage in doing laundry for resisdents around the village in Nongstoin as a part of their daily income. 
 
One of the other problematic trends in the locality was households dumping all their waste into the rivers, members of the Nongstoin Nature Club further shared. A large number of houses are built right on the river banks and face away from the river and treat the river as a outlet in ways, causing further pollution and toxicity to the water. 
 
 
The bright side was that there still is a community in the larger Nongstoin area who has maintained the age old tradition of constructing at least 5 meters away from the river bed and the club have selected them to be felicitated and rewarded for this practice on World Water Day, which was on March 22, 2019. Even more exciting was the news that the club, with help of some officials have started a new campaign which aims to make houses “Facing the River” as opposed to away from the river.
 
Picture 3 & 4: Waste material from resisdences being discarded into the water bodies in Nongstoin.

This, they hope, will help change the discourse on how people engage with the rivers and how they look at its health.

The bright youngsters shared that they have resolved to better things with the river and have enough local support with a growing number of volunteers. However, they are in need of guidance, hand-holding, ideas and inputs on how to engage on this issue so as to arrive at win-wins. 

When asked about whether they are in touch with communities upstream and downstream, they said no.  The Asian Confluence team briefly discussed the importance of such aconnect to be able to effectively impact the river’s ecosystem flows and also maintaining its health. The club members agreed that linking up to other communities will be crucial and they look forward to it as they make further progress. Questions about the transboundary aspects seemed a tad alien to the group, though they all know that all rovers finally flow into Bangladesh. 

The Asian Confluence team shared about the NADI river festival and that the myNADI initiative was to help gather evidence, inputs and views from the ground so as to inform the macro discourse and also help the ground level better understand the bigger picture. The Nongstoin Nature Club members expressed their keenness to collaborate with Asian Confluence on this aspect and promised to extend all cooperation from their side for any initiative in the locality.

Nongkhnum:

Nongkhnum, the second largest river island in Asia, is about 24-25 km from Nongstoin, where the Kynshi River splits into two rivers, Namliang and Phanliang and forms the 2nd largest River Island in Asia. The two stream of the river meets again somewhere on the upstream side of Langchong (Langshiang) and ultimately flows into Bangladesh where it is known by the name of Rakti. 
 
Picture 5: Kynshi River
 
The Kynshi river blesses the geography with placid lake-like water bodies, lush forests, breathtaking waterfalls and so much more.
The Langshiang Falls, locally known as “‘kshaid Ur-Nar’, is reportedly the 3rd highest waterfalls in India with a height of around 337 metres (1,106 ft). Before plunging into the fall, Kynshi  passes through a valley and forms a pool called ‘Wei Spi’, surrounded by breathtaking forested cliffs. Beyond the falls the river flows through a deep gorge till offering a breathtaking vista of hills, forests and small hamlets. There are two more waterfalls close by, the ‘Kshaid Chong’ falls and ‘Wei Spi’ falls. Given the above, Nongkhnum presents a very high potential for tourism. While there is an annual river festival that has started since a couple of years and some winter-time tourism is promoted, the potential is substantially higher than what is presently happening, particularly for community-driven sustainable adventure and nature tourism.
 
 
Picture 6 & 7 : Recreational boating services in Nongkhnum and the scenic view
 
Tourism is however seasonal and only concentrated during the months of December and January, as shared by village boatmen who operate recreational boating services on the river. The alternate livelihood is mostly sand mining.
 
 Picture 8: Sand miners at work.
 
The monsoon months translates into zero livelihood activity in the locality. “We sit at home and wait out the monsoon months” shared our young guide and boatman.
 
 

Key Learning and Insights from the myNADI conversations:

Key Challenge identified:

·    How to balance natural resource management with sustainable livelihoods Sand mining being the main form of livelihood, even with palpable concerns around it, there has been little headway towards finding an alternative. Also, the sand mining trade comes with the usual socio-political layers and problems that most extraction-driven trade has. The land right structure in Meghalaya making it even more complicated in terms of governance and protection. 

Key entry points identified:

·     Leveraging palpable community level concerns regarding river-health, natural resources and ecosystems

·  Building sustainable tourism as an alternative livelihood option to move away from natural-resource degrading livelihood activities.  River and water linked tourism that is community driven and sustainable, could be a game changer.

·  Strnegthening, Hand-holding and building capacity of gorund level institutions and groups to help in changing the discourse around rivers, water and natural resources

Key Ally identified: Nongstoin Nature Club and Nongstoin chapter of Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA)

Further engagement needed on: Better understanding of livelihood patterns, socio-political enablers, collaborative discourse between upstream and mid/down stream communities, identifying champions and more detailed capacity gap assessments. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  •  Click here for my Nadi Nongstoin- Nongkhrum conversation.